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Southwest Airways warns towards using 6,800 individuals to chop prices

Travelers wearing protective masks cross a street outside a Southwest Airlines Co. check-in area at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, California, United States on Monday, October 19, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines said Thursday it could take more than 6,800 employees – about 12% of its workforce – off, citing what it called a "lack of significant progress" in cost-cutting negotiations with unions.

Southwest, like other airlines, is grappling with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel demand. American Airlines and United Airlines began employing more than 30,000 workers together in October after the federal payroll support terms expired.

If Southwest pushes the downsizing, they'll be among the first involuntary vacations in the airline's nearly 50 years of flying. The airline warned more than 400 other workers, including mechanics, last month that their jobs could be cut.

The Dallas-based airline said it had sent federal government-mandated notices advising that their jobs could be at risk for 6,828 employees, including more than 1,200 pilots, 1,500 flight attendants, 1,110 customer service agents, and more than 2,500 employees for Ramps, freight and other operations.

The vacation days would take effect on either March 15 or April 1, or within two weeks of that date, unless the airline makes cost-cutting agreements with unions or Congress passes additional aid to the sector, the airline said.

Such vacation warnings are typically sent to workers 60 days prior to a possible vacation, and at least one union representing the company's pilots opposed the move as a bargaining tactic to pressure workers.

The announcements are "a vengeful act of playing with employees' emotions during the vacation," said Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

The notifications went out so early because some states require 90-day notice and the carrier wanted to add extra delivery times in the event of shipping delays, Southwest said. The airline said it was open to continuing negotiations with working groups.

Southwest has asked the working groups to agree on wage cuts and other vacation avoidance terms that some unions have been reluctant to oppose, arguing the company has not considered their proposals to cut costs such as partially paid voluntary leave.

"Today marks a sad milestone in the history of Southwest Airlines," said Weaks in a video message to the pilots.

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